POLE FAMILY. The family of the Poles, earls and dukes of Suffolk, which, but for Richard III.'s defeat at Bosworth, might have given the next king to England, had its origin in a house of merchants at Kingston-upon-Hull. It has been said that these Poles were the first English peers whose fortunes had been founded upon riches gained in trade; but the Berkeleys, descendants of Robert fitz Harding, the rich burghers of Gloucester, must perhaps be reckoned before them. Their pedigree begins with one William atte Pole (d. c. 1329), a merchant of Ravensrode who settled in Hull, where his widow became the wife of John Rotenhering, also a merchant. His sons, Sir Richard and Sir William atte Pole, were both famous for their wealth at a time when the Crown had great need of rich men's aid. Sir Pochard (d. 1345), the king's butlei in 1327, removed to London, and is styled a London citizen in his will. The male line of this, the elder branch of the Poles, failed with a grandson, John Pole, who by his marriage with Joan, daughter of John, Lord Cobham, was father of Joan, Lady of Cobham, the Kentish heiress whose lands brought her five knightly husbands, the fourth of them Sir John Oldcastle the Lollard.
Sir William atte Pole (d. 1366), the second son of William, joined his brother in advancing large sums to the government while keeping safely apart from politics. The first mayor of Hull, he sat for Hull in five parliaments, and was advanced to be knight banneret and a baron of the exchequer. He was counted " second to no merchant in England," but after his time his descendants left the counting-house, his four sons all serving in the French wars. The eldest son, Michael Pole, who had fought under the Black Prince and John of Gaunt, was summoned as a baron in 1366, before the father's death, and, as a stout supporter of the Crown, was appointed in 1381 governor of the person of the young king Richard II., whose marriage with the Lady Anne of Bohemia he had arranged on a visit to her brother the king of the Romans. In 1383 he became chancellor of England and thereafter, as the loyal servant and nearest counsellor of the king, he had to face the jealousy of the great lords and the hatred of the Commons. His wealth added to the envy of his enemies, for, to his inherited Yorkshire and Lincolnshire lands, his marriage with Catherine, daughter and heir of Sir John of Wingfield, added a great Suffolk estate, where, fortifying the manor-house of the Wingfields, he made his chief seat. In 1385 he was created earl of Suffolk, a grant from the Crown giving him the castle and honour of Eye with other East Anglian lands formerly held by the Ufford earls. In 1386 the opposition, led by Gloucester, the king's uncle, puL'ed him down. He was dismissed from his chancellorship, and impeached by the Commons on charges which, insufficient upon the face of them, secured his conviction. Richard was forced to send his minister into ward at Windsor until the parliament was dissolved, when Suffolk once more appeared as the leader of the king's ptrly. But the opposition was insistent, and Suffolk, after Richard had been compelled to give his word that those who hid advised him ill should answer for it to the next parliament, fled over sea to Calais. One of the earliest of the many popular songs that bark against the Poles tells joyfully of this flight of the detested "Jake." Sentence of death by the gallows was passed in his absence. The over-zealous governor of Calais who found him at his gates, clad as a poor Fleming, his chin shaved, packed him back to England, whence he escaped again, doubtless with the king's aid, reaching his native town of Hull, where he saw for the last time his " goodly house of brick." Old friends found him a ship that landed him in the Low Countries, and he died an exile in Paris in 1389.
The exile's son Michael, who had married Catherine, daughter of the earl of Stafford, was restored to the earldom in 1397, and, although his father's attainder was revived by the act of the first parliament of Henry IV., the earldom was restored once again in 1399, together with the castle and honour of Eye. His life was that of a soldier, and he was with the host before Harfleur in 1415, when he died of a violent dysentery. Michael, the eldest son and heir, marched from his father's deathbed to Agincourt, where he fell, Drayton's ballad recalling how he plied his axe on the great day. By his wife, a daughter of the first duke of Norfolk, he had three daughters, but no one of them marrying, his lands passed with the earldom to his brother William.
This William (1396-1450), the fourth earl of his name, had sailed with his father and elder brother to Harfleur, but had been sent home sick after the siege. He returned with the " viage " of 1417, leading thirty men-at-arms and ninety archers. Henry V. made him admiral of Normandy, and until the crowning of Henry VI. in Paris in 1431 he served in France without, by his own account, coming home or seeing England. He held the chief command before Orleans after Salisbury had fallen to a cannon-shot from the city, but was forced to surrender to Joan of Arc at Jargeau, where his brother Alexander was killed, another brother, John, being taken prisoner with the earl. A fourth brother, Thomas, a clerk, became hostage to Dunois until the vast ransom of the earl was paid down. After 1431 Suffolk turned to English politics. Like his grandfather, he found a king's uncle, another Gloucester, the chief of his enemies. Defeating Gloucester's project of an Armagnac match, Suffolk arranged for the young king's marriage with Margaret of Anjou, and brought home the bride to Portsmouth in 1445. In the year before he had been created marquess of Suffolk, being the fourth Englishman to take the style of marquess. His party and the queen's were on the point of overthrowing their opponent, Gloucester, when the " good duke " died suddenly in the hands of those who had arrested him. This death, followed by that of Cardinal Beaufort, left the field to Suffolk. Under a patent of 1443 Suffolk became earl of Pembroke at Duke Humphrey's death. His honours were capped in 1448 with a dukedom of Suffolk, he. being then admiral of England, governor of Calais, constable of Dover, and warden of the Cinque Ports. But it seemed that long service in the foreign wars had not purged the offence of the name of Pole. All the old enmity which had driven his grandfather into exile was gathering against Suffolk. His peace policy had cost the cession of Maine and Anjou, while the blunders of his ally, Somerset, as lieutenant in France, lost Normandy to England. Early in 1450 the Commons, in spite of Suffolk's appeal to his years of loyal service, accused him of treason and he was sent to the Tower. A long indictment was reinforced by new accusations, and the king could do no more for his minister than set him free under a sentence of five years' banishment. He sailed from Ipswich on the May Day of 1450, but before he could enter the port of Calais he was cut off by a royal ship, the " Nicholas," whose master had him put overboard into the cockboat, where his head was hacked off by an Irish knave's rusty sword. His body, cast headless upon Dover beach, was carried by the king's orders to the Poles' vault in Wingfield church, where his effigy may still be seen. Who sent out the " Nicholas," and by whose orders Suffolk died, are questions which remain unanswered. He was the third husband of Alice Chaucer, whom he married as the widow of Thomas, Earl of Salisbury, slain before Orleans. She was the daughter and heiress of Thomas Chaucer, of Ewelme, and, although direct evidence is wanting, the granddaughter, without doubt, of Geoffrey Chaucer, the poet. She lies at Ewelme, under a magnificent tomb.
John Pole (1442-1491), only son of the murdered duke, should have succeeded to the dukedom, his father having died unattainted. But the honours were apparently regarded as forfeited, and the dukedom was formally restored to the boy in 1455, the earldom of Pembroke being allowed to lapse. Although three generations of warrior lords lay between him and the Hull warehouses, the origin of his house was still fresh in men's memories. John Paston, writing in 1465, could tell every name in the duke's pedigree back to " William Pool of Hull," who had been " first a merchant and after a knight," and " what the father of the said William was " John Paston knew " right well." The duke's father was an upstart for the crowd, whose ballads pelted him with the name of " Jac Napes," suggested by his familiar badge of the ape's clog and chain. Nevertheless a wife of royal blood was found for the young duke, King Edward IV.'s own sister Elizabeth. The marriage confirmed him a partisan of the White Rose. The son of Margaret's faithful minister rode against her man at the second battle of St Albans. Before he was of age he was steward of England at his brother-in-law's crowning, and at Queen Elizabeth's crowning he bore her sceptre. Having held many offices under Edward IV. he was ready to bear a sceptre at Richard's coronation, and, after Bosworth, to swear fealty to the Tudor dynasty and to bear another sceptre for another Queen Elizabeth. He died in 1491, having safely kept his lands, his dukedom, and his head through perilous years.
But each advance in rank had brought danger and misfortune to the Poles. Before the death of the second duke they had begun to pay the price of their matching with the royal house. In the next generation their name was blotted out. John Pole, eldest son of Duke John and the Lady Elizabeth, had been created Earl of Lincoln by his uncle, Edward IV. Before he followed Richard to Bosworth, the young man had been chosen as heir to the throne, Clarence's son Warwick being put aside. He survived King Richard and Henry VII. spared him. But he egged on Simnel's plot, joined the rebels in Ireland, and was killed at Stoke in 1487, leaving no issue by his wife, the daughter of the earl of Arundel. Edmund, his younger brother, (c. 1472-1513) should have succeeded in 1491 as duke of Suffolk, but on coming of age he agreed to satisfy himself with the title of earl of Suffolk, the king grudgingly restoring some portion of the estates forfeited by his brother. In 1499 he suddenly left the kingdom, but was persuaded to return. But the death of the imprisoned earl of Warwick may have suggested to him that Henry's court was a dangerous place for those of the blood of York, and in 1 501 he found his way to the emperor Maximilian in Tirol with a scheme for the invasion of England. Although the kaiser at first promised him men for the adventure, nothing came of his promises. Maximilian, persuaded by a gift of English money, bound himself not to succour English rebels. Suffolk, who had reassumed the ducal style, was attainted in 1504, and in the same year was seized by the duke of Guelders. From the duke's hands the prisoner was taken by Philip, king of Castile, who surrendered him to England on a promise that his life should be spared. But in 1513, when Richard, his brother, was in arms in the French service, Edmund Pole was taken from his prison in the Tower to the block.
Richard Pole, who in 1501 escaped from England with Edmund, had been received by the king of Hungary, and afterwards by Louis of France, who assigned him a pension. Commanding German Lanzknechts in the French service, he was the friend and companion in arms of the chevalier Bayard. At the death of his brother Edmund, he took the title of the duke of Suffolk, claiming the throne of England. In 1514 Louis gave him the leading of 12,000 riotous German mercenaries to essay the conquest of England. The treaty of peace stayed the adventure, but Louis refused to surrender Richard, and allowed him to depart for the imperial city of Metz. Francis I. continued the payment of his allowance, and gave him employment. In 1522 the anonymous writer of a journal describes the coming to Paris of " Richard de la Poulle, soydisant due de Suffort et la Blanche Rose." In 1525 the White Rose was killed by the French king's side at Pavia. With him died the last descendant in the male line of William Pole, the Hull merchant.
By one of the strange chances of history, another family of the name of Pole, having no kinship with the house of Suffolk, owed, like the Suffolks, their advancement and their fall to a match with a princess of the royal house. Sir Richard Pole, a Buckinghamshire knight, was the son of Geoffrey Pole, a squire whose wife, Edith St John, was sister of the half-blood to the mother of Hemy VII. About 1490 or 1491 he married the Lady Margaret, daughter of George, duke of Clarence. He died in 1505, and in 1513 King Henry VIII. created the widow countess of Salisbury, as some amends for the judicial murder of her brother, the Earl of Warwick. Four years later, the barony of Montague was revived for her eldest son Henry. Until the king's marriage with Anne Boleyn, the countess of Salisbury was about the court as governess of her godchild, the Lady Mary. When her son, the famous Cardinal Pole, published his treatise, De unitate ccdesiastica, the whole family fell under the displeasure of the king, who resolved to make an end of them. The Lord Montague was the first victim, beheaded in 1539 on a charge of treasonable conversations, evidence having been wrung from his unhappy brother, Sir Geoffrey Pole. In 1541 the aged countess, attainted with her son Montague, met her death at the barbarous hands of an unskilful headsman. Sir Geoffrey Pole, seeing that his house was doomed, fled the country, and joined the cardinal in exile. He returned with him at Mary's accession, both dying in 1558. His sons Arthur and Edmund, taken in 1562 as plotters against Queen Elizabeth, were committed to the Tower of London, where they died after eight years of imprisonment.
See T. Rymer's Feodera; C. Frost, History of Hull (1827); Chronicon de Melsa (Rolls Series); G. E. C., Complete Peerage; Testamenta Eboracensia (Surtees Soc.); Hon. and Rev. H. A. Napier, Swincombe and, Ewelme (1858); Diet. Nat. Biog., s.v. "Pole' : ; E. Foss, Judges of England (1848-1864); Chronicon Angliae (Rolls Series); Paston Letters, edited by J. Gairdner; Sir J. H. Ramsay, Lancaster and York (1892); Letters and Papers of Richard III. and Henry VII. (Rolls Series); Inquests post mortem, Close and Patent Rolls, Rolls of Parliament. (O. BA.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)